7-5 to the Arsenal after the craziest of all comebacks
'It may be one of my greatest victories,' says Arsene Wenger after Gunners recover from being 4-0 down
Reading 5 Arsenal 7. This was one of the most astonishing matches in the history of English football. OK, so it might only have been the little old Capital One Cup but it was still an out-of-body experience for everyone watching.
Eight minutes from half-time the Gunners were trailing Reading 4-0 and, who knows, perhaps in his head Arsene Wenger was framing a resignation letter. It was a truly shambolic display from the Gunners as the Royals – without a Premier League win all season – ripped their visitors apart at the Madejski Stadium.
The Arsenal defence - if that's what it could be called - was a joke and the body language spoke of 11 players in red and white shirts who weren't up for it on a bitterly cold night.
When Theo Walcott got a goal back for the Gunners on the stroke of half-time, the Arsenal faithful broke into a rendition of "We're Gonna Win 5-4". How we all laughed.
Actually, they went on to win 7-5 on a crazy, crazy night of football. Things got so out of hand that Marouane Chamakh ended up scoring twice for the Gunners, the misfiring Moroccan finding the target for the first time in 13 months.
"It may be one of my greatest victories during my time here," said a stunned Wenger when the dust had finally settled on a tie few will ever forget. "We went from disaster to salvaging our pride. You cannot play for Arsenal and give up — no matter what the score is."
It could be a season-changing result for the Gunners, and for Reading, who went from ecstasy to agony in little over an hour. Jason Roberts scored the first of the night's goals on 12 minutes and when Noel Hunt made it 4-0 on 37 minutes the Reading fans were in raptures.
Even Walcott's goal failed to dampen their spirits during the break but a murmur of concern began spreading round the Madejski when substitute Olivier Giroud found the net with a well-directed header on 64 minutes. Concern turned to anxiety when Laurent Koscielny's header made it 4-3 on 89 minutes and the four minutes of injury time only heightened the tension.
Arsenal threw everything at Reading but the Royals looked set to edge through to the last eight before - with the four minutes up - the outstanding Walcott poked the ball over the line despite the desperate attempts of Nicky Shorey to clear the danger.
Arsenal went nuts, the players, the fans, the manager, while Reading protested in vain that the four minutes of injury time had expired.
And so to extra-time, which proved to be extraordinary time as Chamakh drilled the ball home to give Arsenal the 5-4 lead their fans had been singing about at half-time.
But Reading weren't done and when Pavel Pogrebnyak levelled on 116 minutes it brought the home fans to their feet. They were soon slumped in their seats again as Walcott and Chamakh both scored in the space of 60 seconds to complete one of the great comebacks in football history.
"It was extraordinary," said Reading manager Brian McDermott, whose team became the first to score five goals in a League or FA Cup tie and end up on the losing side. "I've never seen anything like it... It came down to the goal we conceded before half time. We went in at 4-1 and we weren't happy or comfortable. It was suicide what went on in the second half and extra time."
Arsenal were just as bemused by events, with Walcott admitting: "I've never been involved in anything like that, it was an unbelievable game."
Asked what Wenger had told the players at half-time, Walcott replied: "The boss told us we had to start playing. It wasn't good enough and it was not Arsenal. We showed what we could do and never gave up. That is what the guys did and we are absolutely knackered now." ·